The Batman, Satisfied Vengeance, and a Symbol of Hope

The tyranny of fear when punishment reigns.

Blake Nail / 3.9.22

An “S” on the chest and a flapping red cape doesn’t strike fear in those below the flying superhero. A teenage boy swinging in between New York taxis and skyscrapers isn’t something the average person runs and hides away from. When the Avengers arrive on the scene, there is a sense of relief from the people — not, of course, for the city infrastructure or future rebuilding efforts, but for the overall safety of the city’s inhabitants. But what happens when a glowing circle encompassing an image of a black bat appears in a dark, gloomy night sky?

In Matt Reeves’ new interpretation of the infamous mythological figure known as Batman, we see this light in the midnight Gotham sky represents something closer to villainy. It strikes fear in the hearts of those in Gotham — DC’s very own Sodom and Gomorrah, debatably worthy of destruction by fire from heaven above. Fear that Vengeance is out on the loose, hiding in the shadows. Or, as Pattinson puts it in the movie, “is the shadows.” His presence isn’t the noble watcher over the city, looking out like a statue from up on high. Instead, his boots are heard echoing down a pitch-black hallway, slowly creeping in a haunting appearance. Vengeance is coming and he knows all your sins.

At this point in Batman’s career, he’s only been the masked vigilante for two years and isn’t even fully known as Batman. Instead he’s known as “Vengeance.” And he’s distributed this vengeance enough that the mere appearance of light in the sky elicits fear from the criminals of the tortured city. But there’s something peculiar going on in Gotham that hits Pattinson’s Batman peculiarly. Crime, murder and overall villainy is not only still prevalent after his two years of experimenting with his bat project, but all crime has continued to go up.

We may not live in Gotham but this phenomenon isn’t completely foreign to us. It’s a common human instinct to think fear is the way to get what you want. After the traumatic incident which led to the birth of Batman (yes, we’re talking about Crime Alley, the sequence seen one too many times and one Matt Reeves thankfully spares us of) Wayne is left without knowing who killed his parents and a vacuous emptiness in his heart where vengeance finds a comfortable home. But we don’t need a sudden and traumatizing murder of our parents to understand the dynamics of vengeance and using fear as a tactic to manipulate the world into what you desire it to be.

Whether it be children your attempting to get to behave, a spouse you want to listen to you or a workplace in need of higher productivity. We utilize fear by enacting punishment in the hopes it will produce change but, in the end, it often enhances the issue. And even if results are presented, they are tainted by a lack of genuine desire, done out of sheer will to not be punished. This, of course, is not change but rather behavior modification. Something our culture feeds on with slogans like “do better.” In fact, at one point in The Batman someone running for mayor even criticizes Bruce Wayne that he should be doing more for the city, i.e. “do better.” She has, ironically, no idea what he’s up to in the late nights of Gotham.

Unfortunately, the bat symbol in the sky has the same effect as the church does for lots of people. For some who operate under the criminal element (self-deemed sinners) they drive by the church with a look of fear and disdain. It represents an accusatory finger from the heavens, threatening them with vengeance in the form of fire and brimstone for their wicked deeds. For those who don’t view themselves in such a sinful light, the church is a symbol that God will get those other “sinners” one day with his vengeance. Much like a law-abiding citizen who looks up at the bat symbol on a rainy night in Gotham.

In another similarity, Pattinson’s version has struck so much fear in Gotham that even those saved by him are frightened of him — which isn’t too far off from those sitting in pews. Countless Christians find themselves loved by God and simultaneously under the oppressive eye of judgment. Fearful to make the wrong move i.e. think the wrong thought, miss a bible reading or worse — be distracted in their prayers. It’s a relationship with a captor, not a savior. One where your worth is continually measured and evaluated, seemingly never on stable grounds. Where true repentance never occurs, behavior might be managed but one’s mind is never changed.

By the end of the film, this young Batman has come to a realization over his efforts to save the helpless city of Gotham. After rescuing citizens from the Riddler’s destructive plans, a victim clings to Batman, reluctant to let go and be taken away by medics. It’s the first time he’s seen something other than fear in the eyes of Gotham’s citizens. He realizes the city doesn’t need vengeance and fear. Fear has only created more problems and further driven the city into its demise. It’s even created worse villains and inspired others to inflict the same fear on others. Instead, the disturbed city of Gotham needs hope. Fear doesn’t create change, it paralyzes. It makes people move out of necessity and desire for safety, willing to do anything if only they can feel safe for a night. But with hope you have freedom to roam. Pep in your step. Something, or someone, who pulls you out of paralysis and tells you to be free. That perhaps, it’s safe to walk the streets again.

Thus, we see the beginning of how Batman eventually becomes an image of salvation as opposed to a vengeful judgment. Gotham can look up from the shadowy night and see that hopeful glow of a bat in the clouds. And perhaps one day too, the church can be that symbol in the culture once again. A place which instills hope and not fear. Where a captor isn’t waiting to snatch you away, but there’s a savior who you can not only cling to but will securely keep you in his grasp himself.

And as for vengeance? Well, God has famously claimed that for himself. And while it’s not a glowing orb in the sky of a bat, there is a symbol of a battered and beaten man on a cross that proves vengeance has been paid and instead, there is hope in its place. No cape and cowl necessary. You know his name.

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One response to “The Batman, Satisfied Vengeance, and a Symbol of Hope”

  1. […] “We must not be frightened or cajoled into accepting evil as our deliverance from evil.” The Batman himself even concedes the […]

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